It's been a week since the last batch of fantastic photos from the New Horizons Pluto system flyby, and the little spaceship has been busy transmitting gobs more data to the New Horizons ground team at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. NASA's Friday science briefing and image update from NASA headquarters in Washington D.C just finished, and scientists revealed even more astonishing shots of the distant dwarf planet for us to ogle over. Check out this first stunning shot of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in natural color:
The first phase of the downlink process is now completed, with just 5% of the data captured on the ground and the intrepid probe currently 7 1/2 million miles past Pluto. NASA presently enters the next period of spacecraft data transfer, where engineering specs and instrumental info will make up the majority of the downlink, with only an occasional new image to present until September.
Here's a phenomenal flyover video displaying the icy plains of North Sputnik Planum and the Hillary Mountains:
The illuminating news conference, named Pluto: Icy World of Wonder, offered up more mouthwatering images showing a whole range of the iced-over globe's geologic expression and complicated history. These fascinating high-magnification photos show Pluto's dark equatorial regions, Tombaugh Regio's lighter "heart-shaped" section, nitrogen and methane ice flows and massive tectonic features radiating out from all points.
One nightside silhouette of Pluto, backlit by the sun, exposes a dark disc of light and a defined haze layer in its atmosphere, The images stunned the encounter team by showing these particle-strewn haze layers extending 100 miles above the surface, far farther than ever believed, and giving the team their first peek at weather on Pluto. This is one piece of a possible coherent story that may explain where Pluto's crust gets its reddish hue, as these chemically altered hydrocarbons fall to the surface over the ages.
With this latest dump of data, are you sufficiently impressed with New Horizons' findings and ready to declare Pluto an official planet again?